A Casual Ramble: Thoughts on Ukraine

Us and them
And after all we’re only ordinary men
Me and you
God only knows it’s not what we would choose to do

Roger Waters

I legitimately forgot what I was going to write about this week.

I had some sort of plan. An idea. Something about something. But then something else happened and I haven’t been able to think straight for the last few days and I have been unable to listen to music. With or without focus, no piano keys nor guitar chords have disturbed the heartstrings as much as the sounds and images coming to us from Europe.

Before we get there, however, I want to talk about mixtures. Specifically, the Molotov cocktail. Like an explosive, analog version of WYSIWIG, most assume the ingredients are straightforward: glass bottle, flammable liquid, rag. Petrol, kerosene, alcohol, methanol, turpentine, you name it or make any mixture thereof and it will set whatever you want on fire.

But that’s not actually all true. It requires thickening agents as well. Something we can’t see, but something that actually makes the fire stick to what requires burning. In the case of Ukraine, they are using whatever they can get their hands on to make this mixture last.

And in the most obtuse way, this made me realize how much of people we just generally do not see. You might see me as some music critic trying to piece it together right now, but it’s much deeper than that.

My music critique hides a wide berth of interests: French language practice, science-fiction, competitive E-Sports, stand-up and comedy podcasts, historical mini-documentaries and even parliamentary procedure for countries of interest all compose the essential, sometimes chaotic, internal harmony of my person.

While struggling to wrap my head around the geopolitical ramifications of what has happened this past week, one position is absolutely clear: Ukraine is no longer just a country.

Ukraine and her protectors have transformed into metonym for a cause of ideals. Metaphors for hope, liberty and extreme valor in the face of overwhelming odds just as much as they are people. But these multi-faceted humans are more than just their lives as freedom fighters and frightened civilians.

As much as President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has become a Churchillesque icon in the past four days—exuding calm and grace under pressure—he’s also one of Ukraine’s most famous comedians. He spent his young adulthood in the same conflicted Donbass region that Vladimir Putin used as casus belli. This means, ironically, Zelenskyy is a native Russian speaker.

Even more, ironically he’s of Jewish faith, putting an egg in the face of anyone who could claim he’s the leader of a Neo-Nazi gang. His resume includes Servant of the People, a situation comedy wherein Zelenskyy played the part of the President of Ukraine. Now he will probably be seen as one of the century’s greatest heroes.

But Zelenskyy is not alone. In a video taken during the evening of February 25, he displays the resolve of his government staying in the Ukrainian capital. So too have the Kyivan mayor, Vitali Klitschko and his brother, Wladimir—two decorated international heavyweight fighters—rallied the city for the oncoming siege.

So too are Ukraine’s territorial defense forces now composed of artists, married couples, fathers and sons, everyday people. All of them courageously giving a world power stiff opposition. These people are complicated mixtures, of which circumstance has transformed into a network of combustive Molotovs, high-powered rifles, and minute-by-minute digital informants.

That’s the only part of their mixture we see now: the guardians of a nascent democratic republic. A republic that they chose in a landslide during the swift collapse of the Soviet Union. A republic that gave up its nuclear armaments on the assurances of peace and territorial respect. Assurances that have been broken by cultural brothers.

All the reasons why someone would go to war are now attached to the name of Ukraine: defending that which we cherish, desiring a better future, preserving the freedoms we take for granted day-to-day.

No one should be forced to become an emblem of destruction, positive or destructive. War can seem like a calamity of more than just circumstance. For most of human history, it was like a Greek tragedy: inevitable and arriving at its conclusion with a fatal, juggernaut momentum. But in reality, it is an illusion cast by old men who would think themselves sorcerers of death’s construction.

The reality is you and I are mixtures of more than just an explosive variety. And war is a betrayal of that human potential, that sentient amalgam that binds a person together.

I have an image of the human race as we ought to be: enjoying local communities unburdened by the lust for currency or conscripted labor. Each and every one of them connected in a global network of fellow artists, athletes, scientists and explorers. Those always felt like the only four professional umbrellas that mattered.

Perhaps it’s something grown by a drip-fed Star Trek binge, perhaps it’s informed by countless documentaries exploring the why in “why music?” Perhaps it is an impossible dream; George Carlin would tell you that the human capacity for creation is an outlier, an exception, and that depravity is our skill.

But in this matter, I find him to be incorrect—in fact, he’s full of shit.

Humans by nature of biology are driven to create art. Whether a piece of art, a line of code, a small sanctuary, an efflorescent garden, or even an international body politic., the essential human mixture is to mimic what we love and create what brings us joy. It’s what our kaleidoscopic nature does in a fragmented reality.

Like most people addicted to our information age, I am trying my best to cope with the reality that is presented to us. Carlin’s cynicism is like ginger root to an optimistic palate. But it also functions as a counterweight, a check, to my subscription of Camusian absurdity shaping a trained lens upon a fragmented world.

I have no idea how long the war in Ukraine will last. I have no indication of who will come out victorious. But Albert Camus had the very same questions as a member of the French Resistance during World War II and it was not until later, during a return to his native Algiers, that he wrote down an answer to overwhelming hopelessness: “In the midst of winter, I found there was, in me, an invincible summer.”

May the war end swift, granting a triumphant summer for an invincible Ukraine. One that can share more of her mixture than just tales of heroism in the face of oppression. One that will see fresh sunflowers grow under blue skies over sore battlefields and music trumpet across gold plains and peaceful streets.

For the love of music, anything else is just not enough.

In the meadow, there a red kalyna, has bent down low,
For some reason, our glorious Ukraine, has been worried so.
And we’ll take that red kalyna and we will raise it up,
And we, our glorious Ukraine, shall, hey – hey, cheer up – and rejoice!

The Red Viburnum in the Meadow

Want to donate?
These NGOs are committed to helping the victims of a war that never needed to happen

Ukrainian Red Cross
Doctors Without Borders

Polish Humanitarian Action
Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society

Looking for More Charities?
/r/Ukraine has the answers!

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About BenJamsToo

An insane man moonlighting as a respectable member of society from Portland, Oregon. A rock ‘n’ roller since his mother first spun The Police’s “Roxanne,” Ben is a lover of all things rock, soul, funk, jazz, blues, electronic and hip-hop. Perhaps it’s easier to list what he doesn’t like: most gangsta rap, country-western and modern metal disagrees with his stomach. Once upon a time, a friend told him to write about music. So he started doing that under the title of a Willie Bobo cover by Santana. Now he wonders about what Stu McKenzie has for breakfast, why John Congleton is the best damn record producer this side of the millennium and just how Common came to be his favourite hip-hop star. He’s been working on that last one for nearly a decade now. No answers yet.